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SCENE SETTER: Forage

SCENE SETTER: Forage

At the cozy Silver Lake restaurant, the donated produce of neighborhood gardens is transformed on the spot into rich, comforting dishes.

March 10, 2010|By Jessica Gelt
  • A plate of farro-and-lentil salad and citrus beets is made for a diner at Forage in Silver Lake.
A plate of farro-and-lentil salad and citrus beets is made for a diner at… (Christina House / For The…)

In an eco-conscious, fashion-forward neighborhood like Silver Lake (where ergonomic strollers are beginning to outnumber hangovers), it was bound to happen: A restaurant has opened that encourages diners to bring in produce from their home gardens, which the chefs then make into dishes to put on the menu.

Forage is the homegrown idea of chef-owner Jason Kim, who was once a sous chef at Lucques. And rather than coming across as a pretentious marketing ploy, its foraging program brings the cozy familiarity of a small-town neighborhood to the big city restaurant. At once sleek and modern while retaining a home-style rusticity, Forage adds a needed edge to Silver Lake's drowsy restaurant row.

It's very now too. The food is simple, fresh, rich and comforting. The menu -- as dictated by Kim's regular trips to the farmers market and whatever foraged produce comes in on any given day -- is constantly in flux, and a popular dish can run out long before dinner service or brunch is over.

"Our menus are very spontaneous and on the spot," said Kim, explaining how the foraging program shapes the final offerings. When someone comes in with produce, Kim, pastry chef Alina Katchi and sous chef Isabella Pedroli sit down with the donor, taste what's been brought in and brainstorm what they might cook with it.

"Someone brought in a bag of kumquats and Alina did a kumquat cake right there on the spot," said Kim. Recently, a man named Richard brought in lettuce he had grown at his home on Coronado Street in Silver Lake; it went on the menu that night as Richard's Coronado Street Salad.

Foragers are repaid with a barter system -- Kim offers gift certificates or just feeds them a meal or dessert. "Most of the time, people don't want money, they just don't want to throw the food away," said Kim.

Lemonade is made from fresh fruit from neighboring trees, as are plenty of aguas frescas; and recently, there was a stunning salad with roasted beets marinated in olive oil, salt and juice from foraged tangelos and Meyer lemons. It was served with shallots, wheels of the fruit and a bit of feta cheese.

There is method to the madness, however, with a regular roster of meats on offer (rotisserie jidori chicken and chimichurri-rubbed flank steak), as well as certain dishes you can count on being there, including a wickedly rich Niman Ranch pork belly sandwich with fennel pickles and crisp cabbage or its vegetarian cousin, made with creamy avocado.

Pair your choice of meat with a rotating cast of sides, a farro and lentil salad with stewed red onions, say, or scalloped potatoes baked in cream and butter; or spicy chickpea and sweet potato stew touched with a kiss of honey. The many side dishes are arranged like a decadent feast in mismatched serving dishes behind the same glass counter where diners place orders. Servers dish up your food on the spot and put it on a tin tray with a cloth bar towel for a napkin.

The restaurant is small, white and spare, with long wooden tables and bright, warm lighting -- the better for watching the delight play across the faces of guests as they taste the simple pleasures of the yard next door.

jessica.gelt@latimes.com

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